Musique Concrète Soundtracks To Experimental Short Films (1956-1978)

  1. Tom Dissevelt – Glass (1959) directed by Bert Haanstra
    Track one is brief - with spoken words in a foreign language and whistles/clapping/breaking glass echoed - there is a lot going on. The rhythm and feel reminds me of Throbbing Gristle or Jean-Jacques Perrey. Fittingly, the film is a ducument on manual and automated glass- moulding techniques.

  2. Gershon Kingsley – Pixillation (1971) directed by Lillian Schwartz
    Track two is a pulsing and rhythmic bass line/drum track which slowly builds up - probably the closest to "music" on the disc. There are even keyboards in the latter half playing scattered melodies taking over as the pulsing bass notes tend to fall apart. When the bubbling electronics start we know we are into the complete mayhem. This reminds me of Can at their best. Gershon "Popcorn" Kingsley is known for his moog sounds.

  3. Percy Grainger – Free Music (1970), director unknown
    Track three comes as a relief after so much tension in the previous track- it is brief, sounding like outer space walkie talkies or radio waves - the voice over adds a moon-like interest to it. Apparently this piece is taken from a TV show reporting on Percy Grainger's involvement with free music machines, which is a machine used to play a music not limited by time or pitch intervals and which were considered as an early example of modern electronic synthesisers.

  4. Pierre Boulez – Symphonie Mechanique (1955), directed by Jean Mitry
    Track four sounds garbled and jumpy and is quite playful for Boulez who is more known for his 'tonal serialism' than for musique concrete. This is the longest track here at almost 8 minutes. The film uses choregraphed machinery, gears and levers.

    Pierre Boulez in UbuWeb Sound
    Jean Mitry in UbuWeb Film

  5. Joan La Barbara – Dance Frame (1978), directed by Doris Chase
    Unusual for Joan La Barbara, who is more known for her vocal prowess and composition, track 5 represents her foray into electronic noise and is quite exciting to hear.

    Joan La Barbara in UbuWeb Sound

  6. Bernard Parmegiani – Jeux Des Anges (1964), directed by Walerian Borowczyk
    The soundtrack for Jeux Des Anges directed by Walerian Borowczyk, and was voted one of the 10 best animated films of all time by Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Monty Python). It starts out sounding like a a railway yard with a few zap sounds from outer space. About 2.5 mins in it, fades into an electronic hum with some bubbles. At around 4.20 some church organ music mixed with some popping/banging and pig sounds. The organ ends and there's more clanging and humming and whirling. The organ comes back more adamant than ever only to have a spring come loose. Somebody eventually starts singing along with the organ and squeeling pig while sharpening some knives. With two minutes left we are left with a humming sound as someone tries to pull a bedspring up the stairs. Gladly, at the fade we end with the organ and singer as we go on the next track. Keep in mind, i have not yet seen this film, this is just what I imagine to be happening in this film. exciting to hear.

    Joan La Barbara in UbuWeb Sound

  7. Włodzimierz Kotoński – Dom (1958), directed by Walerian Borowczyk & Jan Lenica
    From a short film collaboration between Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk called Dom (House, 1958) which won them the first prize at the 1958 Brussels Experimental Film Festival. The soundtrack mixes outer space gurgles and plucked piano and zylophone notes. Eventually some drum patters arrive along with more outer space sounds. In general as things come and go in this track there is a mellow empty city street feel to it all. This one has a lot of silences so keep that in mind if playing this on the radio.

    Walerian Borowczyk in UbuWeb Film

  8. Pierre Henry – Les Amours De La Pleuvre (1967), directed by Jean Painlevé & Geneviève Hamon
    French surrealist filmmaker Jean Painlevé was known for his underwater short films which are quite distant from the slick nature documentaries we are accustomed. Approaching his subjects with wit and a joyful inquiring mind, he spent his life in an unequivocal pursuit of recording the commonplace behavior of minutely small creatures, his films set to soundtracks by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Darius Milhaud and in this case by Pierre Henry. Jean Painlevé's marvelous documentaries are amongst the hidden treasures of French cinema. The soundtrack is done by the celebrated French composer Pierre Henry who was among the vital forces behind the evolution of musique concrète, being the first formally educated composer to fix his mind on to the electronic medium. Henry, having little regard for traditional musical instruments, preferring instead to privately experiment with non-musical sound sources, over time, he grew fascinated with the notion of incorporating noise into the compositional process. Beginning in 1952, in all, he scored more than 30 films and stage productions including this soundtrack for Jean Painlevé's Les Amours de la Pleuvre (1964).

    Pierre Henry in UbuWeb Sound
    Jean Painlevé in UbuWeb Film

  9. Włodzimierz Kotoński – Labyrinthe (1963), directed by directed by Jan Lenica
    Jan Lenica is probably best known in for his poster artwork for Roman Polanski's films Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966). Both are childlike and abstract, though immediately distinctive. Like Polanski films, Lenica's career in poster art and set-design cultivated associations with the absurd, a preoccupation that culminated with a series of remarkable animations during the 1960s and 70s. In 1962, Lenica created Labyrinthe (1963) a self-consciously Kafka-esque tale of a winged lonely man literally devoured by totalitarian rule. Along with Jirí Trnka's Ruka (The Hand, 1965), Labyrinthe is considered to be one of the finest political animations ever made. The soundtrack was done by Wlodzimierz Kotonski, a pioneer of electro-acoustic music in Poland with experimental works such as Study for One Cymbal Stroke (1959) and Microstructures - Concrete Music (1963). He represents the productive search for contemporaneous expression and the desire to incorporate new scientific and technical thinking into his music. Since 1967, he has concentrated on teaching composition, rearing young talents such as Hanna Kulenty and Pawel Mykietyn.

  10. Bernard Parmegiani – Steinberg (1966), directed by directed by Kassovitz

    Bernard Parmegiani in UbuWeb Sound

  11. Bernard Parmegiani – L'Arraignelephant (1967), directed by Piotr Kamler

    Bernard Parmegiani in UbuWeb Sound
    Piotr Kamler in UbuWeb Film

  12. Robert Cohen-Solal – Délicieuse Catastrophe (1970), directed by Piotr Kamler

    Piotr Kamler in UbuWeb Film

  13. Bernard Parmegiani – Le Pas (1975), directed by Piotr Kamler

    Bernard Parmegiani in UbuWeb Sound
    Piotr Kamler in UbuWeb Film

  14. Bernard Parmegiani – L'Écran Transparent (1973), directed by Bernard Parmegiani

    Bernard Parmegiani in UbuWeb Sound

Released as a series of CDRs from the New England Electric Music Company

An amazing collection of crucial and lost slivers of both celluloid and sound, from right along the rim of the memory hole. Tom Dissevelt's soundtrack to "Glas" (dir. Henstra, 1959) is almost like an Henri Chopin poem, with weird squeals and reverberating breaths and crackling radio voices intoning with dreadful menace among the cycling noises. Turns out to be about glass-blowing, go figure. Gershon Kingsley provides a percolating soundtrack to "Pixillation" (dir. Schwartz, 1971), which shouldn't be too much a surprise for those familiar with his duo work with Perrey on The In Sound from Way Out. Very reminiscent of a coherent Sun Ra moog fugue and the most funky and taciturn of the entire set by far. "Free Music" from 1970, has Percy Grainger taffy-pulling some gossamer sound waves that thicken in a brief two minutes. The biggest name of volume one is Pierre Boulez, contributing his one and only electronic music piece to "Symphonie Mechanique" (dir. Mitry, 1956). It is an incredibly violatile magnetic tape piece that shimmers at a frentic pace, as if Raymond Scott and Xenakis are brainstorming sound ideas at the same time. A highlight of the set, as is Joan LaBarbara's piece. Probably more renowned as a 20th Century contemporary vocalist, along the lineage of Cathy Berberian, here she provides the pouring water, alien-lipped trills, and revolving rhythmic flutters for "Dance Frame" (dir. Chase, 1978), and it is vertiginous and brain-vaporising in its overall effect. The second volume brings forth two pieces by director Valerian Borowczyk, one being an historical soundtrack by Bernard Parmegiani for "Jeux des Anges" (1964). Roaring blindly with electric intrusions, it reveals itself to be the sounds of trains passing, slowing into drones of electromagnetic fields and distorted piano (or are they organ?) keys, which merge and split apart. Voices gurgle in with a percussion sound not unlike dropped microphones at the track's end. Noisy, and a very primitive bit from one of the future masters. Polish composer Wlodzimierz Kotonski's piece for "Dom" (1957) is flittering bits of key strikes and metallophone clops, swirling about each other with birdcall electronics. Percussion and metal scratching seeds the middle section, as more tape sounds swoop down to feast. A mysterious, melancholic, oddly reveberating horn theme joins in on the boings and gurgles to end the piece. With Yo La Tengo re-scoring the nature films of Jean Painleve recently, it becomes all the more crucial to hear Pierre Henry's original slithering and carbonated contribution to "Les Amours de la Pleuvre" (1964), which makes up half of Volume Three. Matching the onscreen movements of the octopus, Henry wags disturbing tentacles around the loud French narration, dropping in cavernous water drops between all the wiggling sounds, and making it all feel as clausterphobic as if you were yourself in its clutches underwater. Another Kotonski soundtrack, for "Labyrinthe" (dir. Lenica, 1962), ends the series. Pianos, black boughs, and looming maze walls are all set to vibrate in the shadows, along with some chilling laughter and odd chatters. The wind breathes ominously, and one cannot help but to put this in the changer next Halloween. While overall sound quality is hissy due to generational dubbing, the scope of these three volumes is of crucial historical value. If only these films could be so readily retrieved for each listen. [Andy Beta]